As Tour Ends, Boss Remains King of Road

Reuters, 2003-10-11, by: Ray Waddell
In a remarkable display of staying power, Bruce Springsteen (news) wrapped his career-reaffirming Rising tour with the E Street Band Oct. 4 at Shea Stadium in New York.
The tour grossed $172.7 million in 2003, playing North American and Australian arenas in the spring and European and U.S. stadiums during the summer.

With last year's barnstorming arena tour added to the mix, the gross comes to $221.5 million from 121 shows, enough to make this Springsteen's top-grossing trek in his 30 years of national touring.

Those are heady numbers for an artist whose most successful days at radio and retail were years ago. "There are only a handful of people who have been around as long as Bruce has who can still tour and be at the top of their game," observes Jon Landau, Springsteen's longtime manager.

"What we like, and what I think keeps Bruce going, is that these shows, even though they included lots of classic Bruce songs, revolved around his current creativity," Landau adds. "The sets included nine or 10 songs from 'The Rising,' and the audience knew them and reacted just as intensely to them as the classics. This was not a look back."

Following Springsteen's triumphant trek through Europe, the 54-year-old New Jersey native began his U.S. run with an unprecedented 10 sellouts at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. That stand grossed $38.8 million and drew 566,560 fans, a world record for one engagement.

"I don't know if means that much to him, but I like it," Landau tells Billboard. "I think Bruce is very proud of this tour, as he should be. But as far as statistics, management gets to fuss over that a little more. What he did at Giants Stadium is a fabulous thing."

The Giants Stadium shows were promoted in-house by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA). "It was incredible," says Ron VanDeVeen, VP of event booking for the Meadowlands complex, site of Giants Stadium and the Continental Airlines Arena. "Seeing Bruce in New Jersey is the ultimate experience. We sold tickets in every state, and we had visitors from all over the world."

The Meadowlands rose to the occasion by building a 270-foot boardwalk, complete with a Ferris Wheel, carnival games, concessions and performances by local Jersey Shore bands. The NJSEA invested $300,000 in creating the area, and just about broke even from its share of concessions sales.

"This was a history-making event, and we wanted to make it bigger and better," VanDeVeen says.

The Jersey concerts grossed about $1 million per night in merchandise and concessions sales; tour merchandise was by Signatures Network and featured event-specific T-shirts for each night of the run. The Giants Stadium stand took Springsteen's Meadowlands complex total to 60 sellouts, including 44 at the arena.

As big as Jersey was, Landau found other dates almost as gratifying, particularly a two-night stand at Boston's legendary Fenway Park that grossed $5.2 million from two sellouts.

"In a tour of high points, I don't know if anything could be any higher than Fenway," says Landau, who took the stage with a guitar during "Dancing in the Dark" at the first Boston show.

Promoter Don Law, chairman/co-CEO of Clear Channel Entertainment Music and a veteran of numerous Springsteen shows, says the first Fenway concert "was one of the hottest Springsteen shows I've ever seen. Bruce was inspirational, and the setting was magical; it's great when those two things come together."

And even though the 91-year-old stadium had never hosted a rock concert, the event came off flawlessly, Law says. "It was a huge event," he says.

Springsteen's crack touring team, headed by veteran tour director Travis, was able to turn large, unwieldy sports stadiums into intimate concert halls. Production opted for amps stacked onstage rather than the sleek look many touring acts favor today. Lights were by Morpheus, sound by Audio Analysts and set design by Visual Terrain.

"From a creative point of view, we felt playing outdoors was the way to go," Landau says. "It's funny, but at this point in time, sound quality has now progressed to the point where outdoors is really better than indoors, audio-wise. It's better onstage, and it's better in the house. We all felt that people who saw the show in this environment heard it in the best possible context."

Springsteen and his E Street Band worked up more than 100 songs for the tour, and Springsteen was tweaking the set list right up to the final shows.

Other key touring personnel include 30-year Springsteen agent Barry Bell, road manager Wayne Lebeaux, production manager Lyle Centola, sound mixer John Cooper, tour accountant Michael Lorick, security director Jerry Fox Sr. and assistant road manager Lenny Sullivan.

Travis started with Springsteen on 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town tour as a rigger. "You could tell then he was destined for much more sophisticated things," Landau says. "We've got a bunch of stars on our crew. By our standards, whether it's Kevin Buell, Bruce's longtime guitar tech, to George, we're looking for every person to be the best there is at their position. We're looking for the A-team."